Chapter 22

Severus leaned back in his Wyvern-hide chair, feeling like he was finally relaxing for the first time all year. He had finished with his end-of-term projects, had let Harry and Draco let off some steam in the skies over the restored Quidditch Pitch, had participated in a family therapy session with Whitney McDonald and Whitney had been correct – Harry's answer had stunned him.

"I can't leave my friends, Dad. I need them. I'm not a lone wolf – I have to have my friends and family around me. As much as you, Draco, Narcissa and Calista are family – so are Ron, Hermione and everyone else. What would happen to them if we left them to the Headmaster's plan?" he asked.

"You know, Harry, you weren't the only child born at the end of July..." Severus hesitated to point out.

Harry just gave him a look that plainly said 'Do you think I'm an idiot?'

"For whatever reason, Voldemort and Dumbledore have chosen me; whether I want them to or not. We are now aware of Dumbledore's hand and can plan for it," Harry said, quite reasonably. Severus suspected his sons had been talking late in the night and this was just the final, calm, culmination of their discussions.

"We could avoid him entirely and just go elsewhere for the remainder of your school years," Severus offered.

"We could – but I'd rather study in a place where I know everyone. He's going to find me no matter where I go, Dad – you know he can."

Severus had to agree, in the end, his son was right – Voldemort would find Harry wherever they went; leaving would just delay the inevitable; better to stay with the devil they knew and could plan around.

They had finally returned to the manor today and the boys had fled for their rooms long enough to shed cloaks and unpack their brooms before racing out to the back and taking to the skies. This seemed to be Harry's preferred method of coping with the past year – not having much of a chance to fly during the school year as in years past - and Whitney approved of the activity stating that at least he wasn't brooding in his rooms.

Severus intended upon getting them back into their summer routine – as he'd done the last two summers – of study, lessons in martial arts, swimming, dancing and customs. He floated over his personal lap-desk and prepared to write to their tutors from the last two summers and make sure they were aware their charges were back for the next few weeks.

Perhaps letting the boys have a few get-togethers with their friends – some formal parties where they could practice their manners? Narcissa would love to organise those. He sat back after giving the notes to his owl, Edgar, and sending him on his way.

Thinking about Narcissa and Calista always brought a smile to his face these days, something that was lately becoming a rarity. He rubbed at the spot on his arm that was always emitting a low-level burn, reminding him of the mistakes of his youth – and how much he needed to teach his sons and their friends how to protect themselves from the threat on the horizon. Voldemort was back and he wasn't going to stay quiet long. Severus knew the Dark Wizard was only biding his time until he had his organization back in place – preferably breaking out those who still dwelt in Azkaban, their minds made even more unhinged by the presence of the Dementors.

Perhaps a study group over the summer for those students who wished to learn defensive and offensive spells... Handpicked students from the elite of each house – fourth year and above... Calling more parchment to him, he hunched over the writing desk and began sketching out his plans for his new group.

"One, two, three... one, two, three... very good! Chin up, shoulders relaxed – Excellent!" The tiny witch who was their dance instructor was beating out the time with her walking stick, walking her way through the waltzing couples dispensing her wisdom as she went. Harry and Draco were very familiar with that stick making pointy contact with various areas of their anatomy when they weren't paying proper attention. Today, Narcissa, Severus, Pansy and Hermione were joining them in the dance class in preparation for a formal party the Snapes were throwing for their friends.

Narcissa and Calista had arrived a few days earlier, Narcissa flushed with success at handling the legal affairs after her husband's death. While he had disinherited Draco – there was a codicil stating that if Lucius died without any further male issue, Draco stood to re-inherit. Apparently making sure there was still a male Malfoy in charge of the estate was more important than whether Draco still considered himself a Malfoy.

Narcissa had insisted that the woman Lucius had been seeing over the last year be tested and she was not pregnant, to both women's' relief. Narcissa did not want to deal with the nightmare of legal work that a male by-blow of Lucius' would have caused, and Miss Pilliwickle was happy that she would not have to sacrifice her figure for nine months. The rest had been formalities only and by the end of the month she and her new financial advisors – ones she and Severus had hired after thorough background checks – had gone through the books with a fine toothed comb, selling off any asset that even had a whiff of being a shady dealing, or hidden Death Eater holdings. The rest she had investigated and fired managers when necessary, promoted others when deserved and basically brought the estate into sounder financial standing.

With all of that out of the way, she had happily moved over to Severus' manor house for the rest of the summer while her own Wiltshire mansion was being remodelled and purged of any objects not deemed acceptable and the wards thoroughly changed. There was no telling who Lucius had allowed access to the current wards and, with the resurrection of Voldemort, Narcissa was willing to spend exorbitant amounts to have them restructured.

While she and Severus waltzed gracefully around the room, showing how it should be done, Harry manoeuvred his partner closer to the edge of the room where Calista was sitting very properly on a chair nearly twice her height. Harry dropped Pansy's hands and, with a bow to little Calista, whisked the toddler off her chair and into the air where he twirled and dipped her in perfect time to the music, her delighted laughter ringing off the ballroom ceiling.

Harry and Draco stood at the entrance to Prince Manor, tugging at their dress robes, awaiting the first of the arrivals. Their father had sent out Portkeys to their friends for the evening festivities. Because Draco's birthday had been celebrated while they were still at Hogwarts after the final task, this party was for Harry and Neville who essentially shared a birthday, being born only an hour apart.

A pop in the air announced the first arrivals for the evening: Neville, his Grandmother, and his date for the evening, Susan Bones. Draco escorted Mrs Longbottom to the Ballroom while Harry chatted for a moment with Neville and Susan before more pops were sounding in the courtyard and Harry had to play the good host, greeting his friends and their dates. When he finally was able to make his way back to the third floor ballroom, Pansy by his side, Harry discovered the room awash in light and sound, the girl's dresses swooshing across the floor, taffeta, silk and organza rustling. Presents were piled in two large piles on a round table in the corner that had scarlet and gold tablecloths layered over it. Another long table held finger foods, a sheet cake wishing Neville and Harry happy fifteenth birthday and a huge punch bowl that had a frozen fruit ring bobbing in the centre keeping the contents cool, which was needed with all the dancing the students and their chaperones participated in.

Severus had planned the music to progress from standard waltzes and ring dances to eventually the cacophony teenagers called music these days, having a sitting room across the hall set up for the adults to retire to when the party became too much for their ears. Calista was allowed to stay up, as a special treat, long enough to prance around the room in her new party dress, specially picked out for tonight's party, get twirled by her big brothers and godfather, gather kisses from everyone else and a small sliver of cake and two fingers of fruit punch in her cup. Then Runeskin appeared to take her to her nursery after she garnered more kisses from her mother. Really, wasn't the party all about her?

As the chaperone's gathered in the sitting room, Severus decided to spring his plan for the remaining weeks of the defence study group.

"We are all aware of the Dark Lord's return and my son's use in his resurrection despite the administration's total denial of the affair. I feel it is only a matter of time before he brings the fight to the school. It is important to him – it was the place where he truly felt at home and accepted for what he was. With Dumbledore running it, and Harry attending it, it only makes it that much more enticing to him.

"We must prepare our children to defend themselves and their school against intrusion. There are only so many teachers, and with the Ministry hiding its head in the sand there will be no help from Fudge. The only way he will believe is if he sees He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named standing right in front of him."

Arthur looked wisely at the Potions master. "What are you proposing?"

"That I run a seminar for the remaining weeks of break, here at the manor where the wards are impenetrable, teaching your children defensive – and some offensive – spells. If it goes well enough, I can extend it to the school year, practicing in the Room of Requirement."

Arthur, who was much more realistic than his wife, Molly, agreed immediately. "Although Molly won't want the kids to attend," he warned. "But the twins are of age now with only one year left and Ron is Harry's friend – trouble will find him without him looking for it – the same goes for Ginny as she hangs around with your son's crowd. Molly will just have to realise that this is the way things will be and it is better for our children to walk in with open eyes and prepared spells under their breath than with no knowledge at all. Most of the truly defensive spellwork I learned was after I left school and through my friendship with Aurors."

Severus thanked him for his agreement and looked at Walter Parkinson and Augusta Longbottom. Parkinson had been on the fence for years. He had managed to support both the Ministry and Voldemort, picking and choosing which causes he agreed with from both camps. Anthony Greengrass followed his lead. Never outright Death Eaters, but some funding had their names attached to it. It would take little persuasion to get them into Harry's camp for the duration; because – if he were truthful – Harry would inevitably face Voldemort. Whether Harry or Severus believed in the prophecy was a moot point now; Albus and Voldemort believed and they would do everything to make sure there was a final meeting between the two Wizards. Severus would ensure that Harry and Draco were as prepared as he could make them – if that meant going behind Dumbledore's back, then so be it.

Augusta Longbottom had been ready for quiet retirement when her son and his wife were attacked the same week as the Potters, effectively orphaning their son while they wasted away in St Mungo's, unable to break through back to the real world. She had pinned all her hopes and dreams on little Neville, nearly ruining him with her anxiety and worry. He had arrived at Hogwarts convinced he was little more than a Squib, useless at anything complicated. Yet, he had his grandsire's green thumb. The family had gained a lot of its fame from a small farm in the south of England that cultivated a small crop of tobacco, known over the last two hundred years as Longbottom Leaf. The growing and curing secrets were kept only in the family vault, and the pipe leaf was considered one of the best Wizarding blends around the world. Only a small amount was cured every year, and it went for premium prices in the Smoke Shops. Neville was a genius when it came to Herbology, far surpassing his grandfather's and great-grandfather's knack for the subject. Already he had made improvements in the family business, adding other hard-to-grow stock to their repertoire and succeeding in making them thrive, selling the bounty to top-of-the-line apothecaries.

Augusta had been surprised that Neville had such talents, and he had blossomed under the tutelage Snape had arranged for the boy during his second year, gaining confidence with every passing year, willing to try new things. If Snape felt that the time had come to prepare the children beyond what they had been learning in school, she would believe him.

"Neville will be there, bright and early." She gazed over at Parkinson. "If you know what's good for you, Walter, you'll agree as well. Don't sit on the fence this time; go with your gut, young man!"

Parkinson grimaced over his drink at her prompting. He was scared to admit it, but he believed what Severus had said. He finally nodded his head. "Pansy will be here and both Greengrass girls will, as well. I may know of some other neutrals who would agree to the training," he added and Severus thanked him; that would make things easier.

"I'll get you a list of those children I feel could benefit," Severus told him. If all went as planned, he would have a core group of students who could then teach others, spreading the knowledge like wildfire. Albus wouldn't like it – Snape could almost guarantee he would hate it, which just made it that much better.

He almost rubbed his hands together in glee.

"A defence group?" Harry asked at breakfast two days later after their father had laid out the plans.

"When would it start?" Draco asked almost on top of his brother's question.

"It starts in forty-five minutes on the back patio. Runeskin has already gotten the area prepared and will be one of your instructors. Auror Moody will also be joining us along with his partner, Auror Tonks."

"Why does that name sound familiar?" Harry asked, nibbling on a piece of toast.

"You met her at your relatives' trial. The girl whose hair was bright purple, I believe?" he reminded his son. Harry vaguely remembered the girl, and he shrugged.

"I guess I remember her. I try not to think about that day too much."

"Understandable, under the circumstances. In any case, she will be joining us and I've contacted the Werewolf as well, as he was one of the few decent instructors you've had over the years, loathe as I am to admit it." He raised a hand to forestall Harry's next question, and Harry closed his mouth with a snap. "And before you ask, no – your dogfather will not be joining us. Dumbledore has him on another mission at the moment. You might see him before term begins, but there is no guarantee."

He closed his morning paper with a stern look at his son who was pouting over his eggs. "I would finish up, gentlemen; we have a busy day ahead of us." With that, he rose from the table, bestowing kisses on his goddaughter and her mother while Draco nudged his brother to get him to finish his breakfast.

"It's just that I haven't seen Sirius in over a year and I haven't heard from him in weeks," Harry groused, pushing his eggs around on the plate, but not really eating.

"I understand, Harry, but if you don't eat something now, Dad will burn your butt later," he warned in a low aside. Harry sighed, took a few bites of egg, grabbed a piece of bacon and excused himself from the table, following his father out of the dining room.

Narcissa had watched the entire exchange silently, patiently helping Calista master the use of spoon and fork. After Harry left she locked eyes with her son, raising an eyebrow in question.

"He just misses Sirius," Draco explained.

"His godfather? I see," she said, in an understanding voice. "You better get going, or your 'butt will be burning' as well." She chuckled merrily as Draco panicked and rushed away from the table, yelling after his brother to wait up.

"Your brother's are very funny," Narcissa said, tweaking her daughters' nose as the little girl gazed up at her.

"Dwaco fu'y," she pronounced.

"Yes he is, you little imp, here!" she filled up the spoon again with warm oatmeal and placed it in her daughters grip.

Severus paced around his lawn, watching as the instructors he had chosen ran fourteen students through their paces. He had never seen Harry so concentrated – except when he was learning defence and combat, he realised. The boy had the same look in his eyes as when Runeskin had first taught them the House-elf martial art. All of the students had that determined look, paying attention to their instructors and hanging on every word – not quitting when it got hard.

He eyed the weakest student in the bunch – Longbottom. Neville seemed to have more determination than anyone, willing to cast repeatedly until he got it right. It seemed as if... of course! The boy was having the same problems Weasley had been having with his wand before he'd gotten a new one their second year. How could he have missed it all these years? He walked with more determination over to where Neville was practicing against a conjured dummy, trying to master an expelliarmus, Lupin by his side, coaching.

"Reach inside, Neville, feel the power running up from your core. You can do this..." the werewolf was encouraging.

"Longbottom, stop this instant!" Severus demanded and the student froze in place, a scared rabbit look on his face. Everyone else stopped what they were doing to watch and Snape sent his glare sweeping around the garden. "Did I say everyone else should stop? No, I did not! Back to work!" Without waiting to see if they complied, as he knew they would, he completed his walk to stand beside the flustered boy.

"Pr – professor?" he stammered.

"Where did your wand come from?" Severus asked.

"Sir?" Neville was baffled at the question.

"It's a simple question, son, where did your wand come from? Did you buy it from Ollivander?"

"Severus, you're scaring the child..." Remus started, reaching out for the Gryffindor.

"Quiet, Lupin. I require an answer, Neville." He stood patiently waiting for the boy to answer.

Neville gulped, but answered anyway. "I didn't buy it, sir. My Gran insisted I use my dad's wand – said it responded to me... I should learn how to become accustomed to it," the child said as if repeating a mantra; and Severus was sure he probably was – one he'd been saying to himself for four years.

"I'm sure she'd like to believe that," Severus muttered, half to himself. "Tell me, Longbottom, does your heart sing when you pick up your wand, or does it just feel like a piece of wood – or maybe something a little bit more than a stick?"

Neville looked up at him, mouth dropping open. "She never believed me... you mean it's not my fault, I'm not doing something wrong?" he pleaded.

"How does it feel?" Severus asked again more gently and Lupin stepped back, realising what Snape was doing.

"It – it feels familiar to me – like it is related somehow – but I have to really push to make it do anything."

"As if you are pushing through treacle..." Severus prompted.

"Yes!" the gangly boy said, relieved. Severus noted that Longbottom seemed to have lost all his baby pudge, lengthening out into a tall young man. It always amazed him when children he'd watched growing up, sprouted overnight like that.

"Put that wand away, boy, it is not meant for you. No wonder you are abysmal at anything other than Herbology! That wand is your father's, not yours. It does not recognise you as its master. Grab your cloak and come with me, we are going to take a trip to Diagon Alley – and I will speak to Augusta this afternoon when she comes to pick you up. She needs to stop treating you like Frank!"

Neville happily shoved the wand into his back pocket and grabbed his cloak from the stack on the ground, running after the Potions master who was striding back across the lawn towards the house.

They returned, two hours later, with Neville in proud possession of a new wand – cherry with unicorn hair – and he showed it off to everyone before he gladly shrugged out of cloak and returned to the dummy he'd been casting against that morning. Lupin smiled kindly at him and reminded him of the incantation again. Severus wandered up to watch.

"Ready? Just aim and flick your wrist in a circle to the right as you say the incantation, Neville," the former professor reminded him.

Neville took aim, flicked his wrist correctly and shouted "Expelliarmus!" No one was prepared for what happened next as the dummy exploded apart, its components soaring backwards fifty feet and the dummy wand it was holding flying straight to Neville's outstretched hand as if it was a pin being drawn in by a powerful magnet.

There was stunned silence on the lawn before the Weasley twins broke out in applause and everyone followed along a second later, converging on the blushing Gryffindor while Lupin, Snape and Mad-Eye shared raised eyebrows. Severus gave a quick tilt of his head to step away from the crowd and the other two sauntered over to stand next to him.

"That was unexpected," he commented blandly.

Mad-eye looked calmly at him. "Don't they share a birthday?"

"Yes – born within one hour of each other; Neville before midnight, Harry right after. Are you suspecting something?"

"He's been manipulating your boy from the start – who's to say he didn't interfere with Longbottom as well?"

Remus gasped. "You're not seriously suggesting what I think you are... Are you?" Snape looked pitifully down at the impoverished academician.

"You weren't there, Lupin, when we discovered Albus' hand in several misadventures that involved my son – from the start! He is more than capable of manipulating the playing field to his advantage. If that meant making sure that a little boy never discovered how powerful a wizard he truly was capable of being – he would do it in a heartbeat, especially if it meant that would open the way for his chosen puppet to excel," he said, bitterly.

"Chosen puppet – Harry?" Lupin was incredulous.

"Harry," Snape confirmed. "Albus believes in the prophecy because Voldemort believes in that piece of drivel. As a result he has been attempting to hone Harry into a pliable weapon, deliberately placing him in harms way to see how he would perform. I'll give you three guesses as to who put Harry's name in the cup last year and the first two don't count," he said sarcastically.

Lupin bounced his gaze from the irate father to the Auror and back. "You're absolutely serious about this. No wonder you're training the children. And you think Neville's talents have been deliberately hidden behind a mismatched wand?"

Severus stroked his chin as he watched the students shout spells at Neville to try and the boy was nearly bouncing in joy as each and every one came effortlessly from his new wand. "At first I thought Bellatrix had crucioed the baby as well, I wouldn't have put it past her. But Longbottom is an undeniable genius in the Herbology field, and with encouragement and proper tutoring, he has managed to survive my classes for the last three years. Anything with a wand, however, like defence, charms or transfiguration, he has low marks in. When I was watching him earlier, I noticed he had the same problems with his wand that Ron Weasley had with his old family wand before he got a new one his second year." He looked down at the shorter man. "I think, Wolf, that if you ask Augusta Longbottom who gave her the idea of having Neville use his father's wand, you will find she will answer Albus Dumbledore. It wouldn't do to have two Boys-Who-Lived, now would it?" he questioned the devoted follower of the Light.

"I see I missed quite a lot this year. What about Harry's relatives? Was he aware of their abuse?" he growled.

"To an extent," the father grimly affirmed.

"And you are letting the boys return?" Lupin asked, amazed.

"That was Harry's decision. I would have pulled him out in a heartbeat and tutored them here for the next three years, or sent them abroad, but Harry is insisting they go back as he is comfortable there. He is quite aware of Dumbledore's involvement with everything and is not on speaking terms with him. At least this way I'll be there with him. The question is, who do we get to teach DADA – neither of you two can return, and I don't dare take it – at least not until the boy's reach their seventh year, so we need to find at least two capable instructors for the next two years. We can't count on Dumbledore hiring the right person."

"There really is a curse on the position?" Lupin asked. "I thought that was just rumour?"

"The Dark Lord used to brag about it in inner circle conclaves," Severus said.

"I can see the curse encompassing the room," Moody said, tapping his eye. "It attaches itself to the instructor the minute he signs the contract. Bloody annoying to watch, mind you!" he huffed, leaning on his staff. "It made my skin crawl the entire year! I was glad to be rid of it, I assure you!"

"So who do we get?" Severus asked to the air.

"We could..." but Remus stopped as Severus glared at him.

"Don't you dare suggest that mongrel, Wolf," he warned. "He is still a fugitive in any case until Pettigrew slips up and gets himself caught. I was hoping it would have happened by now..." he muttered.

"Then you make a suggestion!" Remus was clearly agitated, his hands clenching into fists and sparks flying from his wand.

"Bill Weasley," Snape tossed out after a moment. "He is bright, talented, conducted himself well at the World Cup fiasco, is an accomplished curse breaker..." The other two looked thoughtful at the suggestion, rolling it around trying to find something wrong with it.

Moody spoke up first. "He's a follower of the Light, a strong wizard, I can't find anything wrong with the suggestion. So that's one; who else?"

"What about your protégé?" Remus asked, indicating the fuchsia-haired Auror who was organising the students into a game of magical bounce ball. Instead of passing around a rubber ball, bouncing it to the centre of a circle and calling out a number, they used their wands to pass around a spinning ball of light, keeping it off the ground. He smiled watching her interact with the students, obviously enjoying her enthusiasm.

"Tonks?" the other two asked together, stunning their third party into silence.

"Is there a problem?" Lupin asked.

"Has she gotten any better?" Severus asked the grizzled Auror, ignoring Remus.

"Marginally – still trips over air – but, other than that, she has done quite well in the program; highest ranking graduate last year. Another year in the field... she could be ready by Harry and Draco's sixth term then you could take over for their seventh," Moody suggested. "It's easier to find a Potions master than a competent DADA instructor," he pointed out. Severus had to agree – in fact he knew his old teacher, Slughorn, was still alive and shouldn't be too hard to find if it came to that.

"Now, how do we get Albus to offer Bill the job?" he asked the other two. Lupin surprised him by volunteering.

"Leave that to me," he declared, his eyes turning golden in the afternoon light and Severus shivered at the sight of them. "Just make sure Weasley will accept the position when it is offered."

Severus nodded and assured the angry man that it would be arranged.

The next few years promised to be interesting, indeed.

A/N: And thus Honour ends. It has been a fun ride - and I have more respect for JKR than you could ever know. I've dreaded this year and having to juggle and change the subplots. Some things got lost in the translation - other things became Flints. (Please, no more flames about the patronus - I know it exists, that's enough now. Thank you) As you can tell, I left it open for possible sequels. Voldie isn't dead yet - must kill Voldie. However, it may be awhile. I have several other claims on my time this year. While you wait though, you might want to check out my new fic "The rest of the Story..." an NCIS/HP crossover plot bunny that grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. Also, if you go to my profile you can subscribe to my C2, Zarathustra's reading nook - where I try to add only the best HP fics from . If you think I have missed one - let me know and I will check it out and see if I find it worthy of inclusion. Until next time... TTFN!